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October 11, 1862: Chico

October 11, 2012

I reckon spring is here

Upper Bidwell Park; by Gino, on Flickr

Camp 107

Chico Creek seems on the map a little short stream. It is not so—it heads back in the hills many miles, in the volcanic table-land so often spoken of before. Somewhere on this creek certain Cretaceous fossils had been found, which were expected to throw much light on the geology of the region—it was absolutely necessary to find and examine them. I only knew that some had been seen ten miles up the creek from Chico. [Today] Rémond, Schmidt, and I started on mules to visit this locality, with a young Indian from the ranch as guide. Four miles across the plain brought us to the hills. Here the creek emerges from a canyon cut into the volcanic rock. Up this we made our way for about three miles, sometimes by a cattle trail, oftener without, over rocks, through thickets of chaparral—all volcanic rock, no sign of any place where fossils could possibly be obtained. Moreover, the canyon became more abrupt, and our Indian pretended to know nothing more of the road and wanted to stop. I urged him on.

At last he stopped and told us that he did not wish to go any farther, that he was afraid of Indians, that four persons had been murdered in that immediate vicinity within a few months, that his own brother had been shot in the arm, that Indians might be lurking anywhere, and that he was afraid to go any farther. We found, indeed, that what he said was true. A teamster, on a wood road near had been shot in his wagon, and his horses killed. Two girls had gone up blackberrying, on horses, with a little brother; the girls were murdered, each one pierced by over thirty arrows; the boy was carried off, and his remains were found two weeks later, sixty miles distant, where they had tortured him. We were entirely without arms, for, supposing ourselves out of danger, we had not even our revolvers. Trusting, however, that the severe punishments the Indians had received after their last murders had driven them off—a band of “volunteers” had followed them for a hundred miles, and, after finding the remains of the poor tortured boy, had killed indiscriminately all the wild Indians they could find, male or female female—I resolved to push on, and after various mishaps, at last found the coveted fossils in the bottom of the canyon.

The volcanic deposits here were about eight hundred feet thick, lava and ashes interstratified. The stream has cut entirely through into the sandstones beneath, which teem with shells. They are fossils, but are apparently as fresh as if left on the beach but a few years ago—only imbedded in sandstone. Large masses seemed half made of shells. What convulsions of nature that locality must have seen since those animals lived in that ancient sea!

We climbed out of the canyon and took our route back over the hills, sometimes through dense chaparral, at others over tables of lava, which supported a scanty vegetation of cragged bushes or more cragged trees of the nut pine. Around the latter our guide kept a sharp lookout for signs of Indians, who gather the seeds or nuts of this species for food. Whenever he found where the Indians had been, he scanned every clump of bushes very anxiously. The tame Indians that live on the ranches, or among the whites, are much afraid of the wild ones, who treat them with terrible cruelties if they catch them; moreover, like most Indians, they are very cowardly.

When near the plain again, a fine gray squirrel ran up a pine. Our Indian got off his horse, and took a “sling” out of his pocket—much like those we used to play with when boys, a piece of leather suspended between two strings about two and a half feet long. He selected a pebble nearly as large as a hen’s egg, placed it in the sling, and poised it over his head, holding the stone in the leather with his left hand, his right holding the string, so that the string was over his head. Suddenly letting go with his left, he twirled it twice around with his right hand. The stone flew like a bullet and knocked the squirrel out. The Indian stood on the lower side of the tree, so the animal must have been at least seventy or eighty feet above him. It fell among the bushes, however, and got away.

We got back all safely—tired, however.

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